Is Ryan Murphy’s Jeffrey Dahmer Show The Most Exploitative TV Show Of 2022? | Ryan Murphy

RYan Murphy was destined to be Netflix’s breakthrough, the blockbuster producer capable of turning every new show into an international event. It’s fair to say that hasn’t entirely worked out: none of his Netflix shows have had the impact of his series elsewhere, and now it seems we’ve hit a new nadir. Murphy’s latest series, the awkwardly titled Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, appeared on Netflix this week out of the blue, with nothing in the way of fanfare.

Dahmer has just arrived. There was no premiere. No outlet was granted access to the preview, none of the show’s stars were made available for interviews. Unless you saw the perfunctory trailer that slipped online five days before the show’s release, you’d be forgiven for not knowing it existed at all.

Usually this is a sign that a platform wants to bury a show. It hints at the possibility that the series was commissioned in good faith, but something went so wrong along the way that Netflix thought it best to draw as little attention as possible.

And that could be the case because, whether by accident or by design, Dahmer is an almost unwatchable sight. A biopic of Jeffrey Dahmer, a man who killed (and sometimes ate) 17 victims over a 13-year period from the 1970s to the 1990s, the series seems almost pathologically incapable of finesse. The first few episodes in particular are a demonstration of every worst trend the true crime drama genre has to offer.

Long, long stretches of the series go by without any insight or analysis, instead just letting things play out creepy beat-by-beat as if Wikipedia had decided to fund dramatizations of all its worst entries. The show seems to be aware of this too, cutting itself into a fractured chronology as a way to distract you from its blunt and lurid procession of murders.

Evan Peters, usually just as good elsewhere, plays Dahmer in a way that’s really confusing, like he accidentally watched all of Joe Pera Talks with You as his investigative process. He even looks like he borders on exploitation, taking on the sort of blurry, desaturated feel of a disappointing Saw sequel.

Worst of all, to some extent, is the choice of program focus. What the murder of Ryan Murphy shows, especially The murder of Gianni Versace, is to recover the lives of the victims. By being killed, these people are robbed of a legacy. It doesn’t matter who they are, or what they did. They will always be just a photo and a name on a hit list, an entire existence defined solely by how it ended. The only good thing a show like this can do is steal the spotlight from the killer and show who these people really were. But Dahmer, for the most part, is sadly too enamored with his main attraction for that.

Dahmer is certainly fetishized here. The sleaze of his apartment persists, right down to the blood stains on the mattress. We see him disembowel his first fish, butchering the creature in an agonizingly gynecological way, so that he can gaze at his organs. We see him topless and slippery with sweat. We repeatedly see him masturbate. There’s a sequence where Dahmer takes a store mannequin to bed and pets it gratuitously while Please Don’t Go by KC and the Sunshine Band play in the background.

To be fair, the series gets better towards the end. In the second half, the monofocus changes and Jeffrey Dahmer retreats to the background. One episode is dedicated to the life of Anthony Hughes, a deaf man who ended up dead at Dahmer’s hands. We also see the effect the murders had on Dahmer’s parents, allowing Richard Jenkins (who plays Dahmer’s father) to give a great performance. Jesse Jackson appears, putting the story into a more political perspective (after all, one of the reasons Dahmer got away with it for so long was the police’s tendency to ignore the legitimate concerns of the black community).

But this is after five long hours of deeply dizzy superficial viscera. A show about the worst of humanity shouldn’t necessarily be entertaining to watch, but Dahmer seems to be very moved by how unpleasant it is, as if that’s the only purpose of doing it. No wonder Netflix didn’t want to advertise it.

On the other hand, at the time of this writing, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was the most watched series on Netflix, so it goes to show what I know. Who needs nuance when there’s an audience hungry for blood?

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